Marcos Bretón

Sacramento is hiring its first black police chief. Here’s what he’s up against.

Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn talks up the city in recruitment video

Daniel Hahn, who currently leads Roseville’s force, is positioned to become the first African American top cop in Sacramento. On Wednesday, the 49-year-old Hahn accepted a conditional offer from the city to fill the job, according to city leaders.
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Daniel Hahn, who currently leads Roseville’s force, is positioned to become the first African American top cop in Sacramento. On Wednesday, the 49-year-old Hahn accepted a conditional offer from the city to fill the job, according to city leaders.

The next police chief in Sacramento is shaping up to be a historic one: Daniel Hahn, who currently leads Roseville’s force, is positioned to become the first African American top cop in the state capital.

Opinion

On Wednesday, the 49-year-old Hahn accepted a conditional offer from the city to fill the job vacated by Sam Somers Jr. last year and then filled on an interim basis by Brian Louie, according to city leaders.

The city still has to conduct a background check and certification of Hahn, which should take between four to six weeks, said Arturo Sanchez, assistant city manager. In all likelihood, the background check will be a formality and Hahn could take the reins of the troubled department between mid-August or early September, Sanchez said.

Hahn informed Roseville officers of his decision on Wednesday after weeks of negotiation and speculation.

“I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to serve the community and Police Department that has given so much to me,” Hahn said Wednesday morning.

The significance of Hahn’s return to Sacramento extends beyond a racial milestone.

He is seen as the rare reformer candidate with a familiar face. A native of the Oak Park neighborhood and a Sacramento High School graduate, Hahn comes to the job with institutional knowledge and relationships within the troubled department, as well as strong ties to communities that have had contentious relationships with the police.

The Sacramento Police Department recently has taken public hits for several controversial incidents and for a perceived lack of transparency among department leaders. Meanwhile, morale among officers has fallen in part because of eroding public perception and because Sacramento police are paid less than those in nearby agencies.

Hahn will be tasked with restoring faith both inside the department and among residents.

“I am confident (Hahn) will lead an already great department to an even higher level of performance and community engagement,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Hahn was making $338,147 a year in salary and benefits during his last year as Roseville chief, according to figures kept by the state Controller’s Office. By comparison, former Sacramento police Chief Sam Somers was paid $319,516, according to the data.

Hahn has served as Roseville’s police chief since 2011. While not associated with this tumultuous time for the Sac P.D., Hahn came up through the ranks in Sacramento. He was a captain running Sacramento’s north division when he left for Roseville. He was beloved and trusted in many north area neighborhoods where confidence in the cops can be scarce.

In fact, it was Hahn, the Roseville chief, who came to Del Paso Heights – after hours and off the clock – as a kind of helper to civic leaders trying to convince potential witnesses to step forward after a Grant High School football player was shot dead in broad daylight on Nov. 13, 2015.

J.J. Clavo was killed at the busy intersection of Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street. Sacramento police initially were frustrated with a lack of cooperation with potential witnesses. Communities reached out to Hahn and he responded. A teenager named Keymontae Lindsey later was arrested and charged with murder.

It’s hard to quantify the effect – if any – Hahn had on the arrest of the suspect (Lindsey has yet to be tried 2  1/2 years later), but the fact remains that Hahn was starting from a place of trust that eluded investigators on the ground.

Hahn’s hallmark was community policing when he was in Sacramento. He ran youth services programs for the department. Telegenic, articulate and more approachable than some law enforcement leaders with comparable résumés, Hahn was tabbed early in his career as a communicator and served as spokesman for the department for a time. He has transcended some racial barriers within largely white law enforcement ranks by virtue of his uncommon background.

Born to an African American father and a Caucasian mother who met at Humboldt State, Hahn at 3 months old was adopted by a white family who had two kids of their own and were motivated by a Life Magazine article that said mixed race babies were not being adopted.

The Hahn family was so committed to providing Daniel a home where he would feel proud of who he was, they settled in Oak Park among African American families. “Oak Park is Daniel’s village family,” his mother, Mary Jean, told me in 2011. “They helped raise him.”

Hahn will need to call upon his broad background in his new role. The Sacramento P.D. remains one of the least diverse departments in the nation. The department has been roiled by controversy, which spiked last year after the fatal North Sacramento shooting of a Joseph Mann, a mentally ill black man armed with a small knife. Earlier this year, a Sacramento officer was videotaped repeatedly punching Nandi Cain, a young black man accused of jaywalking.

These cases and others have created the impression of a rudderless department. Meanwhile, some Sacramento cops – and supporters – have pushed back on social media, accusing city leaders of hanging cops out to dry.

Hahn will be charged with confronting the us-against-them sentiments within Sac P.D. It’s hard to know how pervasive those sentiments are, or how far up the food chain they go, but they exist. Hahn could diffuse some of those feelings with his communication skills and his familiarity within the department.

But one of many daunting challenges will be energizing a command staff that has been decimated by departures and retirements. Hahn left Sacramento for Roseville because the path to advancement had narrowed to a select few candidates that didn’t include him.

He’ll now have to build his own command staff while confronting a union pushing for a pay raise and a City Council demanding transparency and better training for officers involved in violent confrontations.

Hahn will take over a department expected to release videos of police involved shootings quickly. It’s a department told it must be gentle and compassionate with a growing homeless population downtown but also aggressive in dealing with recent violent crimes within the downtown core.

Hahn will have to be that familiar face soothing a rattled department. But his hiring won’t work unless he’s willing to confront an insular culture resistant to change.

Can anyone be a reformer with friends on the inside?

It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of one man. But it’s a job Hahn always has wanted. The prodigal son returns home as police chief. His home, his city, needs him to succeed.

Votie Patterson says he's been pulled over multiple times by police, which he believes is due to being black and driving a Mercedes-Benz CLK55.

Opinion

Ryan Lillis contributed to this report. Marcos Bretón: 916-321-1096, @MarcosBreton

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